ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The Metro Center for Journalists Rights and Advocacy, a media rights watchdog, listed 78 incidents it claims violate the rights of journalists while covering recent demonstrations across the region as a result of unpaid and reduced salaries for government employees.
"Over the past four days, security forces, dressed in civilian clothes, have been brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators, journalists and media channels," read the statement, released on Thursday, which details incidents involving 48 different journalists or television stations, including 10 arrests.
The Metro Center, based in Sulaimani, works in cooperation with international organizations to document such violations throughout the Kurdistan Region.
The charges echo others made by Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in reports released earlier in the week. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) also expressed concern about reports of security forces using excessive force against demonstrators in a press release on Wednesday.
Officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have accused some protesters of inciting violence and security forces made several arrests. Photos and video posted on social media since Sunday are said to be of security forces beating protestors.
Dindar Zebari, head of the KRG's High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports released a statement in response, which read, “A number of protesters were arrested by security forces. They were charged with inciting violence."
Regarding reports of violence against those taking part in or covering the demonstrations for the media, he said that KRG "is ready to launch investigations into any violence committed."
The CPJ report, released on Monday, called for the KRG to "bring those responsible for assaulting reporters to justice and return all seized journalistic equipment and materials."
Amnesty International's Wednesday report stated, "The Kurdish authorities must immediately put an end to the beating, harassment and intimidation of demonstrators and journalists. They have a duty to ensure that everyone can exercise their right to peaceful protest without interference."
The Kurdistan Region’s Council of Ministers led by Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani met in Erbil on Wednesday to discuss changes to the austerity measures and salaries of the KRG’s civil servants, in an attempt to address the grievances that led to the protests.
Barzani announced in a speech following the meeting that the KRG would now pay employees on time by the end of each month, as well as an increase in the percentage of wages they would receive and spoke of plans to abolish austerity measures altogether.
Regarding the recent violence during the civil servants’ protests, the Kurdish Prime Minister said people are allowed to exercise their rights, but the KRG would not allow others to politicize and exploit the situation.